Deaf Dalmatian Angus learns to communicate through sign
Laura Girard shares her North Syracuse apartment with
Angus, her 2 1/2-year-old Dalmatian, who was born deaf. Here, Angus
lifts his paw for a treat.
Pets born with disabilities can lead fulfilling lives and be a tool in teaching
humans to handle diversity and adversity.
Angus. a 2 ½ year-old Dalmatian. was born deaf. He suffers from an
affliction that is common in Dalmatians and is caused by the piebald gene.
"The pibald gene gives animals their white color, but in Dalmatians
it's the leading cause for deafness." says Laura Girard. 25, Angus'
owner. "About 8 percent to 10 percent of Dalmatians are born deaf."
Laura and Angus crossed paths about two years ago when
Laura lived in the Thousand Islands and worked at a pet store
"We had a litter of Dalmatian puppies come in to the store,
and we noticed that there was one deaf puppy," Girard says.
"We couldn't sell him because of his condition. And because of
that the veterinarian recommended that we put him to sleep."
Instead of following the veterinarian's advice. Laura decided to
adopt the puppy. "I wanted to train him and see if I was successful
at it," Girard says. "Plus. I wanted a puppy."
When the puppy was 10 weeks old. Laura brought him to live
with her and her father, Larry, a fire chief with the Depauville
Angus, whose name means "unique choice." quickly began to learn
tricks. Laura and Larry used sign language to teach Angus his tricks.
"They are an intelligent breed. We have 20 signs for different things," Girard says.
Angus learned the basic tricks of sitting, lying down, rolling over and
shaking hands, but he also learned the sign language symbols for
food, water, walk and outside, says Laura. Angus was such a good student that Girard's father used him to
teach children about fires and fire prevention. He also made him
the fire station's unofficial mascot.
"He loves fire trucks," Girard says. "He would participate with
the fire station in parades all over the area."
Angus remains the station's mascot even though Laura moved
to Syracuse six months ago to become a pre-kindergarten teacher
at SonShine Child Care Center in Manlius. "He still goes back
home once in a while to visit my dad and the people at thc fire
station." she says.
In Syracuse. Angus has been Girard's constant companion, friend
and exercise buddy.
"He's a very happy, outgoing dog," she says. "We walk two to
three miles a day."
Living with Angus, Girard has learned to express herself in
different ways and to be aware of her emotions.
"He responds to facial expressions and body language," Girard says.
"He is also keen to emotions. If I am in a good mood, he can feel it
and be happy, but if I leave. and I am in a bad mood. he will literally
trash the apartment while I'm gone."
Angus does have his treats for when he is a good dog. Girard makes
him oatmeal cookies and also gives him fruit. And, Angus knows that
when Laura shows him the sign language symbol for "I love you." it
means he has been a good boy. "For him it's a good-feeling sign," Girard
She hopes to put all that she has learned with Angus into a career
in animal training. She wants to work with dogs and use sign
language to train them better.
Meanwhile, Angus continues to use his training and abilities to
set an example. "He's a good education tool for kids, especially
teaching kids about disabilities,'' Girard says.